While AI announcements are expected to get top billing at Microsoft's Build developer conference next week, its data platform reveals are going to get a lot of time in the limelight, too. The new "Microsoft Fabric" platform, built to make data access and insights more easily accessible and integrated, will be the subject of more than a few Build sessions, based on what's in the conference's online session catalog.
On May 17, Microsoft sleuth "WalkingCat" on Twitter posted what look to be pre-recorded video excerpts from the coming Microsoft Fabric announcements. In those segments, Arun Ulag, Corporate Vice President of Azure Data, outlines the coming Fabric data platform "for the era of AI."
In the video, Ulag says Fabric will be an end-to-end data and analytics platform, based on updated versions of existing tools, delivering a unified architecture, security and data-sharing experience in the form of Software as a Service (SaaS). The Fabric platform will be built on top of a common SaaS data lake, based on the open Delta Parquet format, accessible by all components. He calls this platform "OneLake," which he says is "almost like OneDrive, but for your data."
The Fabric platform will deliver data analytics directly to users in the Office apps by leveraging a new, integrated version of Power BI, Microsoft's business intelligence offering.
Microsoft Fabric, which was codenamed "Trident," will consist of seven core workloads or apps, each built for particular personas and tasks, according to the videos. The seven:
- Data Factory: Data Factory pipelines are already part of Synapse Analytics and will continue to provide data integration services to bring data together, cleanse it, and get it ready for engineering
- Synapse Data Engineering: An updated environment for Synapse's Spark allows leveraging notebooks for collaboration
- Synapse Data Science: A new analytics module backed by Azure Machine Learning (ML), also will use notebooks for collaboration
- Synapse Data Warehousing: An update to the SQL Server data warehouse component, updated for larger scaling, with the ability to use the Delta Parquet open data formats
- Synapse Real Time Analytics engine: An update to the Azure Data Explorer component enabling it to analyze massive amounts of data, including IoT data
- Power BI: An expansion of Microsoft's BI platform which is integrated into Fabric for workspace sharing and security
- Data Activator: Another new data tool about which details are few (so far)
All of these workloads will store and access data in OneLake via workspace folders, and all the data will be in the Delta Parquet open-source data file format. (Ulag touts the decision to go with open-source formats in Fabric as a major differentiator between Microsoft and Snowflake, Google and AWS.) All data across the Fabric platform will be automatically provisioned with the tenant and be organized in a hierarchical namespace. The data will be automatically indexed for discovery, governance, compliance and more, according to the videos.
So what's the AI piece of this? (Given Microsoft seemingly has decided no product or service can be announced without an AI component, there must be at least one.) Microsoft is expected to to add its Copilot AI assistant technology to Power BI. Sources of mine say Copilot will be coming to all the other pieces of Microsoft Fabric, too, at some point, which will enable customers to use natural language to code, create reports, glean insights and more. Additionally, in the leaked videos, Azure OpenAI is mentioned as a key binding service across the Fabric platform, although there are few details as to what that actually will bring to the Fabric data platform party.
Last year at Build, Microsoft announced the Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform, which included everything already in the Azure Data space (Azure Data Factory, Azure Data Explorer, SQL Server 2022, Azure SQL, Cosmos DB, etc.) to the Synapse Analytics products, to Power BI, to the newly rebranded Purview compliance/governance product family. Microsoft officials said the unification was meant to weave analytics more tightly into the other components of customers' data estates.
With only these few details about the Build news available publicly at this point, it's hard to know for sure whether Microsoft Fabric is yet another marketecture-type announcement, or a major revamp of some of the company's most important data assets.
Information on what these changes mean to the existing platforms that make up Fabric and how that will affect existing customer deployments is unknown. Most of the Fabric components appear to be further enhancements and integrations of existing capabilities. On paper, at least, the idea of a common back-end storage platform and more open APIs sounds like a potentially big customer win. But more needs to be known about how easy it is to migrate from Microsoft's existing tools and how much it will cost organizations to do so.
Based on what we know so far, "Fabric feels more like an important evolution of Microsoft’s cloud analytics and data lake service, rather than a wholesale change. And that bodes well for customers already using the underlying services like Power BI and Data Lake and Synapse Analytics," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Andrew Snodgrass. "Fabric should help existing customers improve what they’re already doing and open the door to orgs that haven’t adopted the individual services because it’s hard to combine them all."
Microsoft Fabric components and where they came from, as of June 2023.
Microsoft Fabric is a data analytics cloud service based on existing services that improves collaboration and data sharing and reduces deployment and management complexity.
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